by David Cecelski
There is a kind of an ascetic purity to eating at Bill’s Hot Dogs in little Washington. The unadorned storefront (the window says only “Bill’s Hot Dogs”), the bare shop floor (no chairs, no tables), the simplicity of the fare (hot dogs only), the bare-bones condiments (chili, onions, and mustard only—no ketchup, relish or slaw), and the little assembly line of no-nonsense, tolerate-no-foolishness hot-dog ladies—all are part of the experience that hungry pilgrims have sought out at Bill’s since the 1920s.
. The magic at Bill’s comes down to the chili. It’s a hot, spicy, white bean chili, unlike any other hot dog sauce or chili I’ve ever had. It’s pungent and aromatic. It’s redolent of horseradish and mysterious spices. And it’s raucously good. It will make your mouth water, warm you to the depths of your soul, and clear your sinuses.
The original Bill’s Hot Dog’s is located at 109 Gladden Street in downtown Washington, less than 2 blocks from the PamlicoRiver. When I was there the other day, they told me that this Great Recession has hurt business a lot, but lines are still out the door at lunch. A newer branch is at the town’s Washington Square Mall. Established in 1927, Bill’s is one of our state’s oldest eateries.
I guess not surprisingly—we do like our hot dogs—a lot of our state’s most venerable restaurants are hot dog joints. Consider Dick’s Hot Dog Stand in Wilson (established in 1921), Paul’s Place in Rocky Point (1928), Shorty’s in Wake Forest (1916), the Roast Grill in Raleigh (1940), Yum Yum’s in Greensboro (1915), Green’s Lunch in Charlotte (1926), and J.S. Pulliam in Winston-Salem (1910), just to name a few. Each, I know, has legions of devoted fans, but there is only one hot dog shop for me.
Grew up on Bill’s hot dogs in the 60s and 70s. When my mom passed and there were no more reasons to visit little Washington, I bought 2 dozen dogs and brought them back to Wilmington to freeze. Ate them sparingly. Don’t know when I’ll be back. Have enjoyed Paul’s Place and Charlie Grainger dogs here in Wilmington. But never, ever as delish as Bill’s!!!